One Body Too Many (1944)
Frank McDonald’s One Body Too Many could be construed as a horror comedy of sorts, given that it takes place in a Byzantine house with lots of shadows and spooky corners. It’s not really scary at any point and it tends to be a kind of wobbly film, but it’s comedic enough to provide some good chuckles and there is some dark humour to be found what with all the moving of the casket.
One Body Too Many wasn’t well-received at the time of its 1944, with The New York Times’ review suggesting a “limit to charnel-house buffoonery.” Of course, some viewers may find themselves in a possession of a significant appetite for charnel-house buffoonery and that’s where McDonald’s little ditty comes in handy. At roughly 75 minutes, it’s a harmless enough diversion – not exactly a Halloween classic, but it is what it is.
The draw will inevitably be Bela Lugosi, who stars as a butler named Murkil. The real star is Jack Haley as insurance salesman Albert Tuttle, though. He’s arrived at a big spooky mansion with intentions of selling the millionaire owner some insurance. The problem is that the owner of the mansion is dead and his family, apparently a wretched group of vultures, are scrambling over his unread will.
The man’s will is apparently set to remain unread until the eccentric millionaire is buried as to his bizarre specifications. Tuttle is mistaken for a bodyguard sent to watch over the corpse and protect it from the nefarious family members, so he gets swept up in the action immediately. When the real bodyguard fails to show, Tuttle (or Tittle or Turtle) is convinced to stay by the lovely Carol Dunlap (Jean Parker).
There are mysterious deaths and missing corpses, but most of One Body Too Many is on the lighter side of family squabbles. The millionaire, who uses his will’s preamble to insult virtually every member of his family, has proclivities related to the stars and that opens up some specifications as to where his body must be buried that complicate matters.
As mentioned, the real star of the show is Haley. He was probably best known for his role as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, but here he does a fairly decent Bob Hope impersonation. There are some clever one-liners and some word mix-ups to match the slapstick and bedroom shenanigans, so the comedy is varied and vigorous.
Lugosi’s part is less significant, but he does have a role to play as the creepy butler archetype and he tackles it with good humour. He is at his best when he arrives with a coffee tray and suspiciously asks certain characters if they’d enjoy a cup. He is always turned down, but his unyielding advances lead to reservations that there is perhaps something going on in that java.
One Body Too Many is a brisk, simple film. It isn’t excellent by any extent, but it does a decent job of the full-house gag and plays some pretty shady tricks along the way. It’s hard to count it as an authentic horror film, eerie sepulchres aside, but those looking for a comical distraction this Halloween could do a lot worse.